Tax-free for tourists

The following explanations are based on the Ordinance of the Federal Department of Finance dated 24 March 2011 on the Tax Exemption of Domestic Supplies of Goods for the Purpose of Exportation in Tourist Traffic (SR 641.202.2; Exportation in Tourist Traffic Ordinance). Unless otherwise indicated, the article references concern this ordinance.

Principle

Supplies of goods rendered to tourists (people domiciled abroad) are deemed to be domestic supplies and are therefore taxable.

Conditions for tax exemption

Supplies of goods rendered to tourists (people domiciled abroad) are exempt from tax only if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The retail price of the goods must be at least CHF 300 (incl. VAT). However, the retail price excluding VAT has to be indicated in the export document.
  • The buyer (= tourist/customer) may not be domiciled on Swiss territory (art. 3 indent VAT Act). In contrast, it is irrelevant whether the buyer is a Swiss or foreign national.
  • The goods must be intended for the personal use of the buyer or as gifts.
  • The goods must be exported to a foreign customs territory by the buyer within 30 days of receipt.
  • Proof of exportation can be provided either with a confirmed export document (art. 3-5) or with an unconfirmed export document together with an import assessment issued by a foreign customs authority (art. 6).
  • The export document must be drawn up in the name of the buyer and may contain solely goods supplied to this person. Joint declarations with goods for various buyers are not permitted. 

If one or more of the conditions above are not met, the tax-free scheme is not applicable.

Forms

Form no. 11.49 and form no. 11.49 [A] remain valid, but they are no longer printed. In their place, the FTA has drafted a sample export document, which can be downloaded from its website.

Self-drafted export documents

Suppliers (= sellers) can also draft their own export documents. These must contain the following points:

  1. Title "Export document in tourist traffic"
  2. Name and location of the supplier (seller) as used for business purposes, as well as the supplier's VAT number (new UID format or former 6-digit format)
  3. Name and address of the buyer (tourist/customer)
  4. Number of the buyer's official identity document, and type of document in question
  5. Date of delivery of the goods
  6. Precise description of the goods and selling price (excluding VAT)
  7. Field for the signatures of the supplier and buyer
  8. Comment regarding the accuracy of the data and knowledge of the prerequisites for tax exemption. In this regard, the FTA recommends the following wording:
    "The undersigned confirm the accuracy of the data and declare that they are familiar with the prerequisites for tax exemption."
  9. Field for providing official confirmation

Confirmation of exportation by a Swiss customs office

When leaving Swiss territory, the buyer must present the goods and the completed export document at a Swiss customs office without being requested to do so. The customs office sends the confirmed export document to the supplier if it is provided with a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

The supplier or buyer is responsible for taking the steps necessary to obtain confirmation of the export document. The Federal Customs Administration (FCA) is not obliged to notify persons leaving Switzerland about the export confirmation required by the supplier for tax exemption. 

If no customs officers are present at the Swiss customs office at the time of departure, confirmation of exportation can be provided solely by a recognised office abroad. Export documents that are placed in the declaration box at the Swiss customs office will be returned by the FCA to the supplier unstamped. Exportation therefore cannot be proved in this way.

Confirmation of exportation by a recognised office abroad

If the confirmation of exportation is not provided by the FCA at the time of departure, the buyer has the following evidence options:

  • The export can be confirmed on the export document by a recognised office abroad. Afterwards, the buyer sends the document to the supplier.
  • The buyer sends the unconfirmed export document to the supplier, together with the original or copy of the import assessment issued by a foreign customs authority. 

Recognised offices abroad are foreign customs authorities and Swiss embassies or consulates in the country where the buyer is domiciled.

Only those import assessments that are written in a Swiss national language or in English will be accepted. If the confirmation is in another language, a certified translation into one of those languages has to be enclosed.

Special rules for tourist groups

For the purpose of easier understanding, only the term "tourist group" will be used for "foreign guided tourist group" in the explanations below. 

The supplier can apply the provisions mentioned above for tourist groups or, alternatively, apply the special rules for tourist groups (Art. 7). These special rules offer the supplier the possibility of selling goods to members of guided tourist groups directly without VAT within Switzerland. In this case, it is not necessary to leave the country via a Swiss customs office or subsequently obtain confirmation from a recognised office abroad. The right to carry out checks within the scope of the customs authority's usual inspections in the cross-border movement of goods and persons remains reserved. 

The prerequisites for tax-free deliveries by the supplier to members of tourist groups are set out in the authorisation application form (form no. 1238). If the FTA grants authorisation, the seller can apply the special rules.

What is deemed to be a tourist group in accordance with the Exportation in Tourist Traffic Ordinance?

A tourist group consists of tour members who bought an organized tour from a commercial tour operator active in the travel industry. The tourist group consists of at least two members and must be accompanied by a commercially active tour guide from the time of group entry into Switzerland to group departure from Switzerland.

Examples; the following are not tourist groups:

  • A six-member Japanese family tours around Switzerland. One daughter is familiar with Switzerland following a study trip, and acts as the guide. There is a schedule and route, and the entry and departure dates are known. However, it is not a tour organized by a commercial tour operator, and the daughter is not a commercially active tour guide.
  • The football club London United (GB) is in Sursee for a tournament and spends a day in Luzern at the end. The team's coach organized the trip and acts as the group's guide.
  • For its 50th anniversary, the foundry Dublin Ltd. (IE) organizes a three-day trip in the Graubünden region for all of its staff. One of the employees acts as tour guide.

Examples; the following are tourist groups:

  • The ice hockey club Glasgow (GB) books a five-day guided tour of the Austrian federal state Vorarlberg and Switzerland with a tour operator in Bregenz (AT). During the tour, the ice hockey club Glasgow plays a friendly match in both Feldkirch (AT) and Arosa. The tour guide is an agent of the tour operator.
  • To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the foundry Dublin Ltd. (IE) books a three-day tour of Central Switzerland with a tour operator in St. Gallen for all of its staff. The tour guide is an agent of the tour operator.

Tourist group entry in and departure from Switzerland (and purchases from the supplier)

By signing, the tour operator or the tour guide as an agent of the tour operator must confirm in a declaration for the supplier (seller) that

  • None of the members of the group is domiciled in Switzerland;
  • All of the tour members entered the country together and will leave together within 30 days after receiving the goods bought from the supplier. 

The tour guide does not necessarily have to be present when the tourist group enters into and leaves Switzerland. It is possible for the tour guide to meet the tourist group directly after arrival in Switzerland and to leave the group again directly before departure (e.g. at the airport).

The tourist group does not necessarily have to shop as a group in the supplier's retail outlet. It can happen that a separate programme is proposed and that a tourist group is split up. It is irrelevant whether the tour members opt for a programme component when booking the trip or shortly beforehand. In such cases, however, it absolutely must be obvious for the supplier and also evident in the list of tour members which tour members from which tourist group are buying in the shop.

Example

A tourist group starts their tour at Zurich airport. The tour guide and tour members travelled individually to the meeting point at Zurich airport. Even if the tour members all took the same plane, the tour operator or tour guide cannot confirm that all of the tour members entered the country together, as the inbound and outbound trips were not organized for the tourist group as such. If a declaration does not contain confirmation from the tour operator or tour guide that all members entered the country together and will leave together, the group is not deemed a tourist group in accordance with the ordinance.

Documents required

The supplier (seller) needs the following documents and information:

  • List of the tour members, indicating their full names and the number and type of their official identity documents;
  • Details concerning the start and end of the trip;
  • Details concerning the time of entry into and departure from Switzerland;
  • Schedule;
  • Route;
  • Declaration signed by the commercial tour operator or commercially active tour guide;
  • Proof that the trip was offered by a commercial tour operator operating in the travel industry (e.g.  commercial documents or electronic documents of the tour operator or tour guide);
  • An export document with the necessary contents in accordance with Article 3 of the Exportation in Tourist Traffic Ordinance for each individual buyer, together with a copy of the official identity document of each buyer (customer). 

The supplier must file the aforementioned documents (and details) for each tourist group, and have them ready to present them to the FTA upon request (e.g. in the course of a VAT audit).

Further provisions

The tax exemption can only be claimed by the supplier. The buyer cannot request a refund of Swiss VAT neither from the FTA nor the FCA. The civil courts, and not the FTA or FCA, are responsible for dealing with any disputes regarding the refunds (art. 6 para. 2 VAT Act).

If as a precautionary measure the supplier charges the VAT due to a customer domiciled abroad and does not refund it until after receipt of the confirmation of the export or the unconfirmed export document together with the import assessment issued by a foreign customs authority, the supplier does not need to issue a credit note to the buyer for the VAT.

Last modification 31.01.2018

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